From Secrecy News:
INTELLIGENCE OVERSIGHT FLEXES ONE NEW MUSCLE
The ability of Congress to provide an effective check on Bush
Administration intelligence policy has been increasingly called into
question by each succeeding departure from the norms of accepted
intelligence conduct, including most recently the destruction of CIA
Even the Intelligence Committee leadership has expressed a
disconcerting degree of self-doubt and inadequacy.
"For seven years, I have witnessed first-hand how the Intelligence
Committee has been continually frustrated in its efforts to understand
and evaluate sensitive intelligence activities by an Administration
that responds to legislative oversight requests with indifference, if
not out-right disdain," said Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen.
Jay Rockefeller at a hearing last month.
"For years, the White House and the Intelligence Community have
repeatedly withheld information and documents -- even unclassified
documents -- from the Committee that we have asked for," he said.
So it is all the more remarkable that the intelligence oversight
committees have finally dusted off and used one of the tools they have
always had to compel executive branch cooperation -- the power of the
Specifically, a provision of the new FY2008 intelligence authorization
bill would prohibit expenditure of certain funds for an unidentified
classified program unless and until every member of the oversight
committees is briefed on intelligence about the September 6, 2007
Israeli strike on a Syrian facility.
See Section 328 ("Limitation on use of funds") of the Conference Report
on the FY 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act completed last week:
Although disputes over congressional access to information date back to
the first months of the Bush Administration, a review of past
legislation shows that the intelligence committees have not previously
exercised their budget authorization power in this way to compel
disclosure of information, or to penalize non-disclosure, under the
In fact, a former staffer told Secrecy News he could not remember this
approach ever having been used by the intelligence committees (though
other committees have often made release of funds contingent on
submission of required reports under their jurisdiction).
So why did they do it now?
The former staffer pointed to testimony last month by former Rep. Lee
Hamilton at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in which he
stressed the use of financial incentives to induce intelligence
agencies to submit to oversight:
"Okay, they don't share information. What do you do about it? You've
only got one tool: 'If you don't give us this information, you're not
going to get the money.' That's it," Mr. Hamilton told the Committee on
The scales seemed to fall from the members' eyes.
"I think you've given us a game-changing scenario," replied Sen. Kit
Bond (R- MO) at the hearing.
The use of appropriations authority to elicit information from the
executive branch actually dates back to the earliest days of the
Republic, observed Louis Fisher in a 2001 Congressional Research
"Presidents may have to surrender documents they consider sensitive or
confidential in order to obtain funds from Congress to implement
programs important to the executive branch. This congressional leverage
is evident in a number of early executive-legislative confrontations."
See "Congressional Access to Executive Branch Information: Legislative
Tools," May 17, 2001:
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